Is the Video on Demand Model Under Threat in Asia?
The dark side of the on demand model
Most digital natives in Asia Pacific view their online streaming platforms as a staple of their life. They stream their favorite shows on their morning commute while riding Grab or Go-Jek, pick up where they leave off while waiting for our appointments or meetings, and binge on the weekends alone or with loved ones.
But can video on demand also be disrupted? The idea may seem farfetched, especially as Disney gets set to launch their own streaming service, but it is very well within the realm of possibility.
If you remember, it was only yesterday that cable television was once viewed as an unassailable entity, so much so that hundreds of different organizations rallied against how it was nefariously influencing our worldwide youth. Cable's monopoly on our entertainment life, of course, is over now. Cord-cutting, with all the finality the term evokes, is what remains, with cable subscribers foregoing their contracts in favor of video on demand services.
Will yet another form of entertainment unseat video on demand as the entertainment choice of consumers across the world? If you look closely, the cracks are starting to show. In 2018 alone, Netflix canceled a slew of crowd favorites, including everything from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtand Iron Fist to Orange is the New Blackand Luke Cage. While reasons vary slightly from show to show, the bottom line is the bottom line. The cost of producing the show is far outweighing the return in viewership for Netflix.
These cancellations evidence a lack of sustainability to the original content model for video on demand. Unless you hit it out of the park with a particular show or series, the margins per show will always be razor-thin. The diversification of video on demand services, each of which will boast of their own original content, will add further strain to production.
Production costs will stay the same or increase, while the benefits they afford in the way of additional subscribers or increased view time will decrease as viewers get more options. Such is the seldom-acknowledged dark side to the on demand model: Viewers can turn off as easily as they can turn on.
Livestreaming as disruptor and democratizer
Though most people have viewed it as occupying another part of the entertainment spectrum, livestreaming poses a significant and credible threat to video on demand, especially in Asia. The medium has already taken off in a big way in China, where hundreds of thousands of livestreamers augment their income – and in some cases, create it entirely – by broadcasting themselves to their peers.
Production costs with livestreaming are exponentially cheaper than with studio productions. Amateur livestreamers need only a smartphone and a place to shoot, which can be anything from their bedroom or livingroom to a coworking space or subway car. Even livestreams produced by the platforms themselves or partner content studios or partners are still barebones, requiring at most simple film and audio equipment, a green screen, and original graphics.
But livestreams are not just cheaper – the revenue potential has been rising dramatically. Originally, the first livestream platforms earned from a fraction of the tips given out by viewers to their favored content creators. But livestreaming is evolving, and Asia Pacific may very well be a key market in this change, as platforms pioneer new business models to cater to a hungry base eager for content.
One such example is Indonesia's WowBid, which just this month closed a US$5 million pre-series A funding round. The platform enables viewers to bid on items ranging from gadgets to appliances at below their market rate. WowBid, in other words, leverages the inherent spontaneity in livestreaming and turns it into a spectacle rivaling any well-made series, as users rush to buy discounted items before the clock hits zero. It's a reality show on steroids.
Kumu in the Philippines is on the forefront of livestreaming innovation, particularly as it relates to collaborating with brands. The company has worked with partner clients to create branded digital gifts, advertise at the start of shows, serve as part of the green-screened backdrops, and even form the basis for their quiz show content, as in the case with Lazada.
Creating such diversified business models represents a victory for the viewer, who gets content that can be at turns entertaining, inspiring, or educational as anything on a streaming service, while being substantially more sustainable (one of Kumu's flagship titles recently hit the 100thepisode milestone – which would traditionally mark the pathway for syndication for TV shows).
In the end, livestreaming can be a potential disruptor for video on demand because it is a democratizer. By putting the camera in the hands of amateur livestreamers, content creators, and small studios, livestreaming creates a crowdsourced studio of millions that no traditional media company can match.